Mat Mikesell

Sunday Conversation with Dennis Bastien

Prospect League Commissioner Dennis Bastier at QU Stadium on Friday, Jul. 28, 2017. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 29, 2017 4:05 pm

Dennis Bastien's life has revolved around baseball.

In some instances, he's revolved around the baseball world.

After playing baseball through college at Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau, Mo., Bastien got his first gig as a minor league baseball general manager with the Gastonia Cardinals, a Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in the Carolina League in 1978. He's also either owned or served as general manager for minor league teams in North Carolina and West Virginia as affiliates for the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.

After his days as a minor league general manager, he built his own ballpark -- PowerAde Park -- in his hometown of Elkville, which is about 20 miles north of Carbondale. Bastien also helped start the baseball program at Morthland College.

Bastien was hired last winter as the Prospect League commissioner, and his wife, Lisa, helps as the league's deputy commissioner. He was in Quincy this weekend to watch the Quincy Gems' doubleheader against the Springfield Sliders.

How long have you been involved with baseball?

I started playing baseball when I was about 5 or 6 and have been in it ever since. I played all the way through school, got into minor league baseball as a Class A general manager and did that for six years. My family used savings to buy the Winston-Salem (N.C.) franchise. That fall, scenes for the movie Bull Durham were shot in that ballpark. I was married when I was there, and the next night we moved into the locker room. We lived in there from when we got married until the day before the players arrived for spring training.

No breaks in baseball since then?

This is our lives. It's in my blood. I had about a six-month period last year which was the first time I wasn't playing, operating a team or coaching. I had withdrawals, and that might sound weird. It's a beautiful evening, the sun's out, I'm striping my complex's field, and I have no one to play on them. I think this was an omen that we are to finish out our years in the Prospect League.

What was living in the locker room like?

I had the nicest yard in town and had unlimited parking. I had unlimited hanging space. I had eight showers, three washers, three dryers. What more would a woman want (laughs)? She tells her friends it wasn't that bad except for the internal jockstrap smell. No matter what you do, you can't get that smell out. We had a king-sized bed right in the middle of the locker room. We used the coach's office as a kitchen. It wasn't a bad setup at all.

How did you get started as a minor league general manager?

I was in graduate school at Southern Illinois University, and Gale Sayers is hired as the athletic director. The Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers. At the time, Ohio University was the only school in the country that had a graduate program in sports administration. We got a copy of their program, and I asked him if I could hopscotch between the school of business, this school and that school to create the program. I did a lot of gopher stuff in the athletic department, too. Whenever the Tampa Bay Buccaneers expanded, he asked if I wanted to go work for them. I packed up everything in my mom's Mercury Marquis and drove down there. I'm at the Tampa Bay office one day and got talking to the general manager and he asks me, "What do you want to do?" I told him I want to be a major league general manager someday. He takes me out in the parking lot and looks across the bay and says, "You see that pink building over there? That's the headquarters for minor league baseball. Why don't you go talk to them? Go take a long lunch if you want and talk to them."

So you walked over there on your lunch?

I walked in the door, and I hear, "Dennis Bastien what are you doing here?" I had no idea who this guy was. Come to find out he had done the public address at the games I played at Southeast Missouri State. He knew me, but I had no idea who he was. I told him what I wanted to do, and he said the next week were the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Orlando. He said I could come up because we had a couple other guys who were wanting to get into baseball. He introduced me around, and I got offered several jobs. My grandpa lived and breathed St. Louis Cardinals baseball, and we went to games at the old Sportsman's Park -- not the cookie cutter, upside down Busch Stadium, but Sportsman's Park. I figured he'd be proud of me if I went to work for the Cardinals, so I went and worked for the Cardinals as a Class A general manager. I learned very quickly that 99 percent of what you do is sales.

What was it like working in a front office?

You call it a front office, but I never really stepped foot in an office. You're working out of your vehicle, you're selling. I put the blower on my back and cleaned the ballpark after games. I cleaned the toilets. I did the PA. It was a one-man-show, so to speak.

How many different franchises have you worked for?

If I'm counting the ones before I was married, nine franchises. It was all over, but we lived in those cities. I did the all the sales, she did all the office work like invoices and phone calls. We have been a very good team all these years. By the grace of God, we've been able to continue to do that. Tonight, I'll be on the phone with her, and she'll have to type up something. There's things we discuss on a daily basis and forms we go over there.

You've probably seen quite a few players go on to the majors?

We had something to do with an upcoming Hall of Famer. My championship team in the Cincinnati Reds organization in 1990, we had a kid who couldn't hit, couldn't field real well, couldn't run, but he had a cannon of an arm. At the time, the Reds had the local general manager release players. I got a phone call to release this shortstop, and I said, "You're going to give up on that arm?" They asked what I meant. I just said the guy has a cannon and they should put him on the mound. I made another call and said, "This kid really needs to go on the mound." I was told that had been suggested, too, so they did. He was the No. 1 pick in the expansion draft for the Florida Marlins, and he'll be a Hall of Famer next year -- Trevor Hoffman. And we were going to release him. You know a lot of people, and this might sound nonchalant, but it's not that big of a deal to us. The day my son was born, Marge Schott sends him a uniform with a name on his back. A year later, Ferguson Jenkins, I've got pictures of him holding my son out on the mound. It wasn't that big of a deal to us, because we lived it. To someone else though, that's huge. We counted a couple years ago how many players played for us, and it was over 100. There's a couple Hall of Famers. It makes for phenomenal memories. We learn everyday that baseball is an extremely small fraternity. I try to go to the winter meetings when they're close by. We've been very blessed. I can't emphasize that enough.

Who's the best player you've seen?

In 1985, I might have my years mixed up, but I get a phone call from the minor league director for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He tells me No. 1 pick from Arizona State they're sending to a high A team. They were on the road, and they played us the next day and were flying him to our place. I get asked to pick him up, and I say sure. I go to the airport, and he wasn't on the flight. So he's got to get to the ballpark on his own. It was Barry Bonds. You could just tell. He just had a whole different look. I've seen a lot of players like Chipper Jones. A lot of Hall of Famers. They just carry themselves different. One of my favorite players is the guy who stands next to Joe Maddon every day in the dugout, and that's Dave Martinez. He was my center fielder and was a league MVP that year.

What made rebuilding franchises enjoyable?

I was young and aggressive. I guess it wouldn't be too egotistical to say I was trying to make a name for myself. It was a challenge, and I've always been fond of challenges. It became a point where I no longer wanted to be a major league general manager. I wasn't hired to be fired. It's tough to fire yourself. I tried it one time. I was asked in 1991 if I'd have an interest in being the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and I told them no. The vice president asked me why. I said, "If things are going bad, no matter how well a general manager does, they have to let someone go. I'd rather control my own destiny in minor league baseball."

You turned down the Reds job after they won the World Series in 1990?

We won a championship, too. I was with a Reds minor league team in 1990, and we won it first. Mrs. Schott, who owned the Reds, really loved my wife. She had us come to Cincinnati for the World Series, and we worked there during the series. My wife and I both have World Series rings. They flew us to spring training in 1991 to be a part of the ring ceremony. That was really neat. That was the highlight of our careers.

How did you end up as Prospect League commissioner?

I was asked by a couple major league teams if I'd have any interest in being an associate scout. One of the scouts told me they saw a job posting on Indeed.com to be the Reds regional scout, because their guy just left. I went online and saw the posting for this job. I called a friend of mine who had umpired in the two leagues I worked with in the Carolina League and the South Atlantic League in Tim Eppling, who's one of the owners of the West Virginia Miners. He said, "Dennis, you're serious? You'd have an interest?" With where I'm at, I can't move. I have 700 acres where I hunt, fish, and I have a baseball complex. He said I was overqualified for it. I said I was interested. I called (Terre Haute Rex owner) Bruce Roselli, and we talked and said they were going to make a decision the next day. I'd like to do this rest the of my life. My wife is my deputy commissioner. This thing works great. I took a couple months of a transition period, but if they'll have me, we'll do this the rest of our lives.

What do you enjoy about the Prospect League?

I had a conversation with Epping and Dave Chase, who was the commissioner before Bryan Wickline. He said there were challenges, but it was ideal. I'm in my element when I'm making presentations to councils, to mayors, to park directors. I've made several presentations for league-wide sponsorships. I love meeting fans. When it comes down to sitting in front of a computer and writing suspension letters, my deputy commissioner, my wife, does that. It gives me the opportunity to stay in baseball and not have to operate a team 365 days a year. I didn't have to move from the area I live. I felt God has called us to this. It meant a lot. The first meeting, I don't want to say I fell in love, but I got attached to all the directors. There's an extreme mutual respect here, and we're really proud of that.

What are your goals for this league?

We're working very hard to expand this league. I've made presentations to 11 different markets within and just outside our current footprint. One I was at last Saturday was Blue Ash, Ohio. In 1990, on our championship team in Charleston (W.V.), we had a pitcher on our team named Larry Luebbers. His grandfather was part of the demolition team that tore down Crosley Field. They drug most of it out to his farm. A few years later in Blue Ash, a suburb of Cincinnati, they rebuilt it. I've talked to their parks director about putting a Prospect League team there. Our goal is to a get to a 16-team league by 2020. If that happens, we can go to two eight-team divisions or four four-team divisions, and we have can have a true playoffs and true all-star game because you're not playing the other division. It cuts the travel and overnight stays. Obviously, wear and tear on players and expenses will go down, too.

I understand you've been to QU Stadium once before?

I played in an American Legion all-star game here in either 1970 or 1971. I remember the stone (walls). I knew the area, because we'd come up to Hannibal quite often when my children were small. They played travel ball, and I'm a cave guy. My son got a scholarship to play at Culver-Stockton College. So he'd call and tell me he was in Quincy. We'd come up to go get something to eat.